The government looks set to call on supermarkets to remove confectionery from tills as part of the Responsibility Deal, The Grocer can reveal.

Sources at the DH told The Grocer plans for exclusively “guilt-free lanes” are being actively looked at as the government continues its nudge-based obesity strategy. “We will be looking next year at the promotion of food in-store, which will include this sort of measure - but there are no concrete plans in place as yet,” said a Department of Health spokesman.

The news comes a week after Sian Jarvis, Asda’s head of corporate affairs and the former DH communications supremo came under attack during an interview with Radio 4’s Today programme for not having a blanket ban on confectionery at its tills.

Jarvis said during the interview that this was an area that it would be looking at through the Responsibility Deal’s Food Network. However she also argued that there was currently no evidence that merchandising confectionery at tills changed consumer behaviour.

A spokeswoman for Asda confirmed this week that one in three tills is guilt-free at the “vast majority” of its stores. “We’ve worked hard to provide more confectionery-free checkouts and have increased the mix of products to include items such as batteries, socks and financial services.”

Responsibility Deal: the obesity pledges so far

  • More than 70% of fast food and takeaway meals labelling calories - including over 9,000 high-street outlets
  • 69% of the retail market including all major supermarkets committed to removing trans fats
  • Over 70% of retail market and 47% of major high-street and contract caterers committed to further reductions in salt in over 80 food and drink categories
  • 23 leading food and drink companies, including Coca-Cola, Kraft, Nestlé, Subway and all major retailers signed up to remove five million calories a day from national diet, through reformulation and promotional activity

Pester-power policies are by no means uniform among major multiples. The Co-operative Group banned all products “high in fat, sugar and salt” from checkouts. “We are committed to avoiding direct marketing and advertising to children of HFSS products.” said a spokeswoman. On the other hand, Morrisons admitted it still sells sweets at its checkouts. However it indicated it would be happy to introduce guilt-free tills if the DH made it part of the Responsibility Deal. “We are signed up to all the pledges on food and alcohol so if it is part of the next phase we will of course look at it. Our track record in supporting and delivering on pledges is strong,” said a spokesman.

Tesco said it no longer stocked confectionery at its supermarket tills but did in Express stores. Sainsbury’s also said it only stocked confectionery at checkouts in its Local c-stores though seasonal items such as Easter eggs and advent cards could be found at its supermarket tills.

A Tesco spokeswoman said: “We haven’t displayed sweets at our tills in Extra, Superstore and Metro for years. We know our customers appreciate this.”

Waitrose said its tills were designed to highlight “seasonal and new products”, including confectionery. Under its Plan A, Marks & Spencer does not sell “children’s sweets” at “belted checkouts” but Simply Food stores are exempt.